By Anil A Athale, Co-ordinator INPAD.

The activities of sandlewood smuggler Virappan has again put in bold relief the failure of Indian state to uphold the law. Negotiations with a bandit are the 'nadir' of state power and prestige. A deeper reflection is needed to go to the main cause of this phenomenon.

Ever since the decade of 1980s, India has been witness to mass violence and killings. In Punjab, buses were regularly stopped, Hindus separated, and shot. In 1990, nearly 200,000 Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of their homes and have become refugees in their own country. In Western Uttar Pradesh and in Haryana, there have been cases where caste based ‘Panchayats’ have ‘sentenced’ to death people for the ‘crime’ of marrying outside their caste! Is India becoming ungovernable?

Many sociologists and political scientists have explained this away as part of the process of industrialisation that India is going through. Some (notably Dr. Rajani Kothari) attributed the violence to late Indira Gandhi and her manipulative politics. The favourite whipping boy of the media, Indira Gandhi, is no longer on the scene but the troubles continue. The present violence is being blamed on the Sangh Parivar and its ideology. There is also a strong possibility that the external agencies are fishing in the troubled Indian waters. Yet it will be delusion to attribute the current state of our nation solely to these factors. The malady probably goes deeper.

Societal peace versus state enforced peace!

The 16th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes had written about what will happen if there was no state and central authority. He felt that human existence will be reduced to life in jungle, a war of everyone against everyone. In such situation he describes life as being " nasty, brutish and short." In such a state of affairs civilisation or progress is impossible. He claimed that mankind has always had a ‘state’, be it tribe governed by tribal laws or a kingdom or dictatorship. But a central law and punishing authority is an absolute necessity. Sceptre has always been an inseparable part of all rulers, modern or ancient.

In India, for thousands of years, it was the rigid caste system, the doctrine of Karma and the later period religious sanction behind it, maintained social peace. Even today, in large part of India, communities live peacefully with the minimum policing. At the height of British rule there were never more than 60,000 odd British soldiers in India. India governed itself.

But there is negative side to this peace. It was a social peace that was based on stagnation and oppression. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, gave eloquent expression to this feelings of the Dalits when he rejoiced in the break up of the old village system. While India has still miles to go before we usher in an egalitarian social order, it will be fair to say that in last fifty years we have moved towards breaking these barriers of caste.

Indians are still emotionally wedded to the concept of social peace and not geared administratively to use force or violence. Force when used by groups, signifies the breakdown of social order. But use of force by state to keep peace is traditionally regarded as legitimate both internally and internationally. In political perspective, use of force or violence is an accepted norm. State must have the monopoly of use of force and surrendering it to groups signifies anarchy.

In a democracy the political acts of the state have to be take place in the democratic framework. At the apex, political order, rests on consensus on values, goals , means and rules of the game. When such a society is also geographically and historically linked, a state is born. This consensus or willing consent of the majority of the ruled to accept rules of the game cannot be equated with majoritarianism. The legitimacy is as much due to the 'values' that are universal, non-discriminatory and in tune with the prevailing international and philosophical norms. This adherence to norms and values has to be both de jure as well as de-facto. If the state is dependent merely on the consensus principle then the minorities will pose a perennial problem. It is this lack of basic understanding that is at the root of the Indian problem.

Judicial delays, corruption and inefficiency of the prison administration (goons keep cell phones in prisons and conduct their operations even from prison cells) have led to a collapse of rule of law in the country. The Sangha Parivar’s insistence on ‘Hindutwa’ as touch stone of Indian nationalism poses a danger of majoritarianism.

Problems of Cadre based parties.

When a cadre based party comes to power in a democracy it has two choices, either to induct its cadres into administration or to render them ineffective. A self confessed admirer of Hitler like Mr Bal Thackery needs to be reminded that on 30 June 1934, Hitler decimated the SA and Ernst Rohm and his goons before he could begin ruling Germany! The event has passed into history as the ‘night of long knives’.

Historically, all of great Indian rulers, be they Ashoka, Akbar , Krishnadevraya (of Vijaynagar) or Chattrapati Shivji, were all ruthless in dealing with criminals. They were also just and never discriminated on the basis of race, religion or caste. If Shivaji the Great were to be ruling Mumbai, the goons who destroyed national trophies would have had their legs and hands cut and then been thrown down the cliff off Raigarh fort.

If India is to have a future, the citizens have to understand that breaking of law and violence will invite the wrath of the state and punishment. The judiciary has to get its act together and deliver. Else, we may be staring down the prospect of Biharisation of India where the state has withered away.